Maui group launches Safe Solar Projects effort leading up to Paeahu Solar case : Maui Now

Paeahu Solar Project, a solar energy and battery storage plant, is slated for 150 acres behind Maui Meadows in South Maui on Ulupalakua Ranch land. PC: Innergex

Leading up to a contested case hearing next month, a group of Maui residents is putting a spotlight on concerns over utility-scale solar projects. 

Residents recently launched Safe Solar Projects, an effort that backs solar power but believes the construction of these plants should not negatively impact people, culture or environment.  

Safe Solar alleges that Paeahu Solar Project, a solar energy and battery storage plant slated for 150 acres behind Maui Meadows in South Maui, could increase flooding, and spark cultural, archeological and environmental damage, among other issues. 

“There’s a lot of questions about this application,” said Christina Lizzi, a lawyer who represents Pono Power Coalition, the group behind Safe Solar Projects. “The best scenario is to make sure the (Maui Planning) Commission has the most information they possibly can to make sure the communities are kept safe.” 

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Maui community group Pono Power Coalition, along with Maui Meadows Neighborhood Association, which has about 100 members, are intervenors in a case challenging Innergex Renewables USA LLC permit and approval applications for Paeahu Solar at Maui Planning Commission. 

Canada-based Innergex is applying for a Maui County special use permit and Project District Phase II approval for its Paeahu project, which must be vetted by the commission. 

The contested case hearing begins Nov. 8 in the commission’s Wailuku building. 

Paeahu Solar, though, counters that its energy and battery project is a critical solution to establishing renewable power while reducing Maui’s dependence on imported fossil fuels. Once completed, it would power nearly 7,000 Maui households. 

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With the planned closure of the 74-year-old, fossil-fuel-burning Kahului Power Plant by 2024, Paeahu Solar was chosen by Hawaiian Electric Co. from a large field of projects to replace the loss of the power plant, the company said. Also, Paeahu received approval from the Hawai’i Public Utilities Commission. 

Innergex also maintains that Paeahu won’t have negative impacts on the adjacent community. 

“The Paeahu Solar Project remains committed to continuing to share important project information with the community in a timely manner, which includes detailed information on our commitments to public safety, a comprehensive drainage plan that will ensure there will be no adverse effects on the adjacent or downstream properties, the implementation of avoidance and minimization measures for sensitive environmental and cultural resources, and the considerations that went into identifying this as an ideal site to develop a solar and battery storage project,” Oliver Robson, Innergex Renewables USA LLC senior project manager, said in a statement to Maui Now.  

Robson added that the company will prove during the case that the project is safe and beneficial for all Maui residents. 

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“We look forward to presenting the array of studies our technical consultants have conducted in the proceeding and showing again that the project will provide a clean, safe, and reliable energy source that will benefit all Maui residents, and ultimately lead to the reapproval of the project permits,” Robson said. 

Hawaiian Electric Co. declined to comment on its position on Paeahu Solar. 

“At this time, we continue to closely monitor the proceedings for Paeahu Solar,” a company spokesperson said.  

During the contested case hearing, each party presents evidence on the technical merits of the project’s permit application and updated site plan.  

The hearing officer will provide findings and recommendations to the Maui County Planning Commission.  

Then, the commission will vote on whether to accept the recommendations and approve the applications.

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